Want to know what Christmas shoppers really think now that December is at our door? Some very smart people in Britain had it figured out two years ago actually.
A research paper released in October 2014, co-authored by the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, offered insights into the decision-making process of shoppers and examined the importance of the “fit.”
“Fit has a significant impact on each stage of consumer decision-making, from the evaluation of a message to the consumer’s actual choice,” said Professor Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Professor in Marketing at Oxford and one of the authors of the paper.
“We often see brands communicating in ineffective or even counter-productive ways, whereas sometimes small inexpensive changes to campaigns which take into account the importance of fit have very positive results.”
Some seasonal campaigns – other than Christmas – “have almost instinctively understood this connection,” Puccinelli continues. So “Back to School” campaigns often have undertones of “avoiding the risk” of children not being fully equipped for their school activities.
“As the new school year approaches, certain consumers are particularly susceptible to this type of messaging and want the security of having bought everything necessary,” the professor explained. “For this group, messages that focus on the uses of a product resonate most.”
At Christmas, when messages are about promoting indulgence, “consumers who want to maximize pleasure are more open to the idea of switching to premium brands and to spending more to get the most out of their purchases,” Puccinelli said.
The research shows that if shops align the right message with the consumer’s prevailing mindset, they can increase their chance of completing the purchase by 186 percent.
For instance, for some consumers sun cream is best promoted by messaging on avoiding the risk of sunburn, the professor explained. “For others it is best promoted by focusing on the positives of the appearance of an even suntan.”
Cosmetics can be promoted with an emphasis on anti-aging for the “prevention” consumers but with “look your best” messages for the “promotion” oriented consumers. The same product can be made to appeal to different consumers who have two different types of mindset through appropriate messaging, explained the Oxford professor.
Awareness of the impact of a shopper’s orientation and the importance of fit can help marketers avoid unnecessary promotions. The Oxford research suggests that
at Christmas, retailers often do not need to offer price promotions, multi-buys or discounts, adding that this can actually undermine the celebratory mindset of target consumers.
By tapping into a more “prevention” mentality, such campaigns send mixed messages and there is the risk that they could actually reduce sales, says the research.
Although individuals have a tendency to one of these orientations, marketers can influence and change this orientation with minimal input and switch a consumer from one mindset to the other in specific circumstances.
“Our research suggests that advertisers can create the desirable orientation within just one advert. Put simply, an appreciation of the importance of ‘fit’ for consumer decision-making means that small, typically low-cost changes to messaging, packaging and communications can have a profound impact on consumer choice,” said Professor Puccinelli.
Why we procrastinate
Meanwhile, why do shoppers wait until 11:59 p.m. of December 24 to purchase their gifts for loved ones or their special someone? The lack of money for buying gifts isn’t the only answer.
Karen Pine, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in Hertfordshire, England, who actually studies the psychology behind giving gifts, told TIME Magazine last year: “We know that some people put it off because it’s too difficult and they’re indecisive. Or they don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort.”
Some might have a good reason for holding off on their purchases, the TIME article noted. Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, said about 20 percent of Americans are “chronic procrastinators.”
Some research has linked chronic procrastination to personality issues like attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, passive-aggressive tendencies, revenge, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Serious procrastination, Ferrari says, “is an active decision to not act.”
Others may say the holidays can just be too overwhelming, given the plethora of potential gift choices, both in stores and online. With too many decisions to make, some choose not to make any at all — until it’s too late.
“Many people get overwhelmed by all the choice that’s available and decision paralysis sets in; they literally can’t do anything because they can’t decide,” says Pine. “So they wait until the last minute when they simply have to make a choice.”
Then there are those who roam the stores on Christmas Eve because they didn’t think it was important enough to do it sooner.
“Someone who isn’t so bothered about the meaning of the present, doesn’t feel it’s worth all the effort, and may leave it to the day before Christmas, and leave it to one shop and pick whatever is on the shelf,” says Pine.
Taken together, the Oxford study and the TIME article lead us to this conclusion: You better hope for a generous giver who actually knows what to give you and is buying your gift now, as you read this article – if he or she hasn’t bought it already. That would be a real Christmas treat.